“How to throw a cheap (but elegant) dinner party.” “Seven Tips for Making It Through the Winter.” “How to break up with a friend.” “What to do—and not do—for perfect eyebrows.” “Yes! Foods may fight acne.” “How to Pounce on Best Credit Card Offers (Before Banks Pull Them).” “How to Have a Better Flight.”
As service journalism continues to draw an online audience, the Times has embraced the trend, creating a section and appointing an editor with a background in social media to run it. Last summer, the Times began running prime examples of old-school service journalism as part of an ambitious overall digital strategy to double the paper’s digital revenue to $800 million by 2020 from $400 million in 2014.
Started as a “module on the homepage” last summer, the online section serves up several stories a day that provide life tips and advice with clickable and shareable headlines. In December, Tim Herrera, a growth strategy editor who had been working on “Smarter Living” since its debut, became the full-time head of the section.
“The idea is that we are trying to take the concept of service journalism, which the Times has been doing since it launched, essentially, and make it a priority,” Herrera told WWD. “We are trying to make a name for ourselves as an outlet that really is actually trying to help readers live better lives.”
The stories themselves run the gamut from targeting post-college Millennials trying to negotiate adult life to newlyweds planning a honeymoon to Baby Boomers figuring out retirement. While some of the advice is fairly intuitive (want to have a better airplane experience? Brings snacks. Want to stay warm in the winter? Wear layers), other stories are more in-depth. The paper’s “Cooking” app, which gained a following and spawned a food-delivery kit service, is pointed to as an example of a successful brand extension — and recipes and kitchen tips that originated in the “Cooking” section are often posted in “Smarter Living.”
Herrera explained that rather than thinking of the section as an online “vertical,” a more apt description is a “horizontal” since the stories are drawn from different sections within the newsroom that lend themselves to consumer-oriented fare such as cooking, tech, health, travel and style. A mix of archival and fresh content, a few stories go up under the “Smarter Living” banner each day.
“When it started, it was basically just mining the archives for service journalism that’s still relevant,” Herrera said.
One especially good example, he said, was a “Your Money” column that ran in the business section in 2010, offering advice for women seeking a raise. After re-posting the story over the summer, a flood of traffic from the Times web site and app, as well as shares on social media, made it one of the most successful “Smarter Living” stories.
But as the section has developed over the past months, there has been an increasing emphasis on adding original content. The eventual goal is to spread the service journalism initiative throughout the newsroom so more and more desks are contributing to “Smarter Living.”